Howie Severino. Photo by Kerwin Patrick M. MercadalWELL-LOVED cartoonist Severino “Nonoy” Marcelo may be gone, but his humor and artistry live on as shown in a commemorative exhibit.

“The two most important things that Nonoy gave us were one, humor, and two, art,” curator Virgilio Aviado said during the opening of the exhibit, Muling Ptyk: Da Art of Nonoy Marcelo, which ran from Sept. 16 to Oct. 3 at the UST Museum. It featured original Nonoy Marcelo drawings from the private collection of lawyer Saul Hofileña.

While the collection is not actually for public viewing, Hofileña has agreed to a campus tour, with Vargas Hall at the University of the Philippines as the exhibit’s first venue.

Marcelo’s prolific output stemmed from the fact that the cartoonist drew practically anywhere.

“He drew satire while working, walking, standing up, he drew while he was in ordinary conversation, and even while sleeping, sloshing the air with an invisible pen,” Hofileña said.

Part of the exhibit showed cartoons in tempera which Marcelo did for newspapers. One editorial showed a student jumping for joy because of the suspension of classes due to a coup d’ etat. Also included was Marcelo’s famous comic strip, “Ikabod,” which started during the Martial Law era; it satirized the Marcos dictatorship. The use of mice as characters in the comic strip gave a light twist to the heavy topic of politics.

In their heyday, Marcelo’s cartoons portrayed the state of the nation more accurately than any broadsheet headline.

“He was ordered several times to tone down his criticism; that is, to tell lesser truths, which is in itself a contradiction,” Hofileña said. Not only did Marcelo use his wit to present life’s humorous side, he also tried to make the Filipino face his flaws and shortcomings.

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Marcelo, the only Filipino cartoonist featured in Time magazine, started out as an artist for Far Eastern University’s official publication, The Advocate. He had his first cartoon strip “Plain Folks” published in the Daily Mirror. One of his signature characters, “Tisoy,” about young Filipinos during the hippie era of the early 1970’s, was made into a television series.

On the other hand, broadcast journalist and Marcelo’s godson, Howie Severino, commented on Marcelo’s knack for combining humor and courage. For him, this was what helped Marcelo earn the respect of his colleagues and admirers.

Marcelo was also a wide reader, said Severino, who was also the cartoonist’s former colleague at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Marcelo did not only draw cartoons, he also did research before illustrating his ideas.

“May seryosong utak itong mamang ito.” Severino told the Varsitarian.

One illustration portrayed then President Corazon Aquino as the Statue of Liberty, clad in yellow and blue colors, an image of freedom. Another cartoon shows an image of 1986 EDSA Revolution wherein then Armed Forces vice chief of staff Fidel Ramos jumps for joy above a military tank with imprisoned Filipinos inside, a reference to Ramos’s connection with the military dictatorship.

“Kung tiningnan mo ngayon…may mensahe ito, may patama. Sa labas, puro masaya, sa loob, may problema pa rin,” Severino said of the cartoon.

Marcelo also did thought-provoking parodies, such as depicting then President Joseph Estrada as Christ in a last supper with his Cabinet members, as his disciples.

Another illustration parodies Norman Blackwell’s “American Gothic,” showing the missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham held captives by the Abu Sayyaf. The couple is shown holding a wooden fork in front of a mosque, with a machine gun and a rocket launcher pointed at them.

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What is striking about Marcelo is not his prolific works, or the fact that he inspired so many during the Martial Law era. Rather, what is remarkable is that despite how attuned he seemed in life, those who knew him best describe him as a transcendental artist – “a man hounded by his genius, an outsider looking out,” Hofileña said.


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